50 American Playwrights That Everyone Should Know – Part V

Anthony J. Piccione

They are the masterminds behind the plays that theatergoers of all kinds are treated to, whether it’s at the community or professional level. Without them, the actors, directors and designers would not have a brilliant show to bring to life, to begin with. It is true that theatre is a collaborative art form, but of all the roles involved, none of them require more artistic or creative ability than that of the playwright.

It is the playwrights who first create the show that the actors, directors and technicians will ultimately bring to life. Without them, there would be no show to put on in the first place. Yet it seems as if that – despite the enormous role that they play in this process – they do not get nearly as much credit from society for their contributions to the arts and culture as they should, especially here in America.

Personally, not just as a young playwright himself – but as an individual that respects all kinds of artists in theatre and elsewhere – I’d like to see that change, and that is why I have decided to dedicate this five-part series to just 50 playwrights from the United States that everyone – especially those in the theatre community – ought to be familiar with. Each part in this series will contain 10 playwrights – in no particular order – who were among some of the most influential, critically acclaimed or thought-provoking playwrights in the history of American theatre. 

So without further ado, here is the final part of my list of 50 American playwrights that everyone should know…

41.    Annie Baker (b. 1981) 

One of the youngest playwrights to be included on the list, Baker has become increasingly well-known and respected in the theatre community in recent years. Her most recent play entitled The Flick – which premiered in 2013 – won her both the Pulitzer Prize and the Obie Award for Playwriting. Other notable works include Body Awareness, Circle Mirror Transformation and The Aliens.

42.    Christopher Durang (b. 1949)

After rising to prominence in the 1980s, Durang established himself as one of the greatest writers of absurdist comedy in the history of American theatre, having written plays that deal with controversial issues such as religion, homosexuality and child abuse. Most recently, he received the Tony Award for Best Play for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. His many other notable works include Beyond Therapy, Laughing Wild, Baby with the Bathwater and The Actor’s Nightmare.

43.    Katori Hall (b. 1981)

In 2009, Hall initially received critical acclaim for her play The Mountaintop, which dealt with the final hours of Martin Luther King prior to his assassination. This led to her receiving the Olivier Award for Best New Play, and to the play itself opening on Broadway with a production starring Samuel L. Jackson. Along with Annie Baker and others, she is one of the most promising Millennial playwrights alive today.

44.    David Henry Hwang (b. 1957)

Arguably one of the greatest Asian-American writers alive today, Hwang has written several plays, operas, musicals and screenplays over the course of his career. In terms of his work in theatre, his most notable work is his Tony-award winning play M. Butterfly, which was largely inspired by the Italian opera Madama Butterfly. Some other notable works include The Dance and the Railroad, FOB, Yellow Face and Chinglish.

45.    Tony Kushner (b. 1956)

Over the past quarter-century, few playwrights have received as much critical attention as Kushner. While he is also known for his work as a screenwriter – having written the screenplays for Munich and Lincoln – he is best-known for writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning epic Angels in America, which tackled the spread of the AIDS epidemic during the Reagan administration. Other works include A Bright Room Called Day, Slavs! and Caroline, or Change.

46.    Tracy Letts (b. 1965)

While also known for his work in theatre as an actor, Letts is best-known for his work as a playwright and screenwriter, having adapted many of his plays for the screen. His most notable work is the Pulitser Prise-winning play August: Osage County, which was later adapted into a feature film starring Meryl Streep. Other works include Killer Joe, Bug and Superior Dounts.

47.    Lynn Nottage (b. 1964)

One of the boldest and most acclaimed playwrights alive today, Nottage is best-known for writing plays dealing with issues facing women of African heritage. While she initially received attention for her play Intimate Apparel, it is her Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined – which focused on women who survived the Congolese Civil Wars – that is widely considered to be her masterpiece. Other notable works include Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine, Stone and Poof!

48.    Suzan-Lori Parks (b. 1963)

Having started out by acting at the Drama Studio at the age of 11, Parks has gone on to become one of the most awarded playwrights in modern times. Her most critically acclaimed work is Topdog/Underdog, which in 2002, led to her becoming the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. Other notable works include The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, The America Play and Fucking A.

49.    Adam Rapp (b. 1968)

While some might also know Rapp as the brother of actor/singer Anthony Rapp, he has managed to find his own place in the theatre industry as one of the most prolific playwrights alive today. His most notable work is Red Light Winter, which won the Joseph Jefferson Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Other works include Finer Noble Gases and The Metal Children.

50.    Sarah Ruhl (b. 1974)

In the 21st century, few playwrights have received as many awards or critical acclaim as Ruhl. She initially received attention for her romantic comedy The Clean House, which won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Other notable works include Eurydice, Dead Man’s Cell Phone and In the Next Room.

So there you have it. Those are just 50 out of many American playwrights in history that everyone should know. Any playwrights that you didn’t see in this five-part series that you think should be recognized for their work? Any playwrights that you saw that you don’t think belong on this list? Either way, let us know in the comments section!

This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Student, playwright, actor, poet and blogger currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Anthony and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione).